Myers Barnes is one of the most respected educators in new-home sales. This past week, Barnes conducted his New Home Sales University in Orlando, Fla. On Thursday night, he sat down to talk to Pat Curry, BUILDER Senior Editor, Sales and Marketing.
BUILDER: What are builders doing right during the housing market slowdown?
MB: I believe they are right to be eliminating their inventory. Until we outstrip supply and demand, we'll be in this situation. They've come to realize that building more and trying to hold profits that are phantom doesn't work. I admire a builder that has the courage to do that.
BUILDER: Even if it means slashing prices and piling on incentives?
MB: The reason the consumer is so confused is because he doesn't know where the bottom is. Find the bottom as fast as you can and get it off the books. Quit playing with it. ... Right now we have ridiculous incentives - one week, it's a generator, one week, it's a Mustang. Just find the bottom and get it over with. And then we can move on.
BUILDER: So what do builders say to their customers who bought at higher prices?
MB: I bought a condo at the top of the market. Just the other day, my wife said, 'I love this house.' I said, 'I'm glad, because we're going to own it for many years. We're probably never going to get our money out of it.' The builder came and told me that they're protecting the price, but to move the last few units, they're adding hardwood floors and granite. So I'm ticked because I didn't get those things. You can protect your customers' equity but it comes to a point where it's survival. You'll never beat the foreclosures and flippers when their units come on the market so the comparables are going to be messed with anyway. So get the inventory out of the way. Find the bottom as fast as you can. Quit playing with it.
BUILDER: Many builders feel overwhelmed right now by circumstances that are out of their control. What can they control?
MB: Builders can control the perception of the buyer. Institute a greeting that tells buyers it's an incredible market. They can control their attitude, their selling skills, who's working for them, and who's not working for them. They can't control the war, gas prices, the interest rates, or the world economy. The only economy you can control is your own. You can control the customer service, the customer satisfaction, and the physical environment of the sales centers and the models.
BUILDER: How can sales managers motivate and inspire their sales staffs right now?
MB: Spend 50 percent of their time in the field. And managers can't tell me they're too busy right now because they don't have any deals. People want to see them in the field. They want to know [their managers] are there. Don't be a cheerleader; be a coach.
BUILDER: If you could build the perfect new-home sales associate, what skills, attributes, and practices would that person have?
MB: I'd hire for attitude, 100 percent. If you have the right attitude, you can teach skills. You can't teach attitude. A sour attitude can bring down an entire team. The only reason you need an experienced person is because you don't have a training program. And if they are skilled, are their skills from last five years? If so, they didn't learn how to sell.
BUILDER: We've heard some builders say that their current sales staffs just can't sell houses, that they need to clean house and get all new people. What are your thoughts on that attitude?
MB: It depends. I don't want to appear ambiguous, but it depends in this fashion. I've studied change; we know 24 percent of population smokes, 64 percent is overweight, but 85 percent won't make changes to save their own lives. If people won't change in life-or-death situations, why do you think they'll change in this? I would give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I'd put everyone on a regimented training program. If I gave you a 30-day fast start (training program) and you didn't buy into it, that would be it. I can't just terminate people, though.
There is no such thing as a bad salesperson; there's bad management. You hired them, you trained them. Have you given them every tool that is necessary to be successful? Don't shoot them out the door until you're sure. Eighty-five percent of all dollars are spent on stuff - administration and salaries. Less than 1 percent is spent on making people better at what they do. Help me understand how that works.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.